When to Seek An Outside Perspective

Change agents are individuals who see a need and take action to meet that need. They are also individuals who appreciate the perspective of dispassionate observers. But, when to request outside perspectives isn’t always clear – keeping in mind that the majority of the change agent’s work is deep inside the project, it is hard to remember to step aside and take the long view. Consider the signals below as indicators that another perspective might be beneficial for revealing simmering challenges.

  1. Meetings are vaguely unsatisfying, even if “the work” gets done. Conflicts can smolder, interpersonal dissonance can be subtle, and disagreement with the strategic direction can lie just below the surface. There’s something tickling the back of the brain, but it isn’t quite clear what it is
  2. Team members miss low stakes deadlines. Moving the project forward via the day to day activities is critical for success. If the minor commitments aren’t being accomplished, change agents might work to resolve the immediate issue without considering why.
  3. Team members volunteer for outside projects. Time is finite, despite beliefs to the contrary. Greg McKeown in his book Essentialism notes that the word “priority” didn’t have a plural form until the 20th century. Volunteering suggests greater interest in a different opportunity. Why?
  4. The change agent is getting a lot of “no”. The immediate supervisor says no to a minor request, the dean says no to an equipment purchase, the administrative assistant says no to providing help. The string of “no” might indicate a change in institutional priority, an ineffective request strategy, or something else entirely (think hurt feelings – yes feelings exist in academia too!).
  5. The philosophy transitions to “we got this”. High confidence in future performance based on past performance is a positive feature of teams, but transitioning this confidence to reduced preparation or planning is problematic.

Change agents often are insightful and perceptive professionals. However, this insight isn’t always so clear when applied to oneself. The prompting questions of a dispassionate observer may cause the revelation that turns things around.